Monday, October 22, 2018
  • The Buzz
  • From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Broward school system doesn’t give police data on students in discipline program

SUNRISE — More confusion surrounds the Broward County school district's controversial discipline diversion program known as PROMISE after a Broward County Sheriff's Office major revealed that deputies and school resource officers do not have access to discipline data for students in the program.

Major Nichole Anderson of the Broward Sheriff's Office School Resource Officer Program testified Friday to a commission created to make recommendations in light of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High on Feb. 14 that left 17 dead. The school district first denied that suspected shooter Nikolas Cruz was involved with the program but later said Cruz went through PROMISE's intake process before returning to his school the next day in 2013.

Anderson said the Broward Sheriff's Office has no access to discipline data about students in the PROMISE program.

"They don't have access to our system, we don't have access to their system," Anderson said. "I can't stand here in good conscience and say that that's happening."

A possible solution Anderson suggested? The Broward County school district having its own police department.

She said deputies and school resource officers cannot tell how many times a student has been referred to PROMISE and that schools rely on "word of mouth" communication between administrators and school resource officers.

Anderson said the PROMISE program "is a very good program in theory" but that there was supposed to be a separate database set up so a school resource officer can access a PROMISE student's discipline history.

"For whatever reason, that data isn't up and running so if you don't have that relationship or that communication with the administration at the school as well as with the deputy, then things fall through the crack."

Anderson said it wasn't a refusal to share information on the district's part but rather an inconsistency among schools, calling it "part human in that you have different personalities." She characterized the current setup as "not ideal."

What would be ideal, Anderson said, was if the school district created its own schools police force similar to the Miami-Dade and Palm Beach school districts. She clarified that the recommendation came from majors and colonels but not specifically from Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.

Currently, 16 municipal police departments supply school resource officers in addition to BSO, and each has its own set of policies and procedures that can make for inconsistent operating procedures and conflicting roles and responsibilities, she said. The school district only pays 30 percent of the cost of a school resource officer, and consolidating into one school police department means one consistent funding source.

"Consistency, accountability, you have everything on one board and that makes for an easier process," Anderson said.

Michaelle "Mickey" Pope, the district's Student Support Initiatives Executive Director who oversees PROMISE, gave a presentation Thursday that left commission members unsatisfied, with one member saying he wanted to "dig deep" into the program. The commission has asked Pope to testify when the board meets again in July.

"If we have no database for lack of a better term, lack of tracking across law enforcement agencies … it's just good citizenship driving interactions between the law enforcement and school district," said Broward County School Board candidate and commission member Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty who was among those killed at Stoneman Douglas. "We have little hope of actually identifying and interceding in these events before something tragic happens. It would be nothing more than luck that allows us to do that."

He added, "How do we know if these programs are effective? We have no data to tell."

In the presentation that followed, Broward County school district chief of staff Jeff Moquin said deputies do have access to discipline panels and attendance panels.

Moquin said it would cost the school district $56.6 million to create its own schools police force, however the district does not support the BSO recommendation.

"We're not in the law enforcement business," he said.

Anderson said she was speaking specifically to students in PROMISE.
"There was a database to be established that the deputies could access, school resource officers can access," she said.

Broward County school district spokeswoman Tracy Clark did not respond to requests for comment.

Commission member and Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said he was "significantly concerned" that the district is figuring out how it will staff an armed guard at every school.

"I want to say publicly that the pace at which I see them working on what has been reported to us gives me pause," he said.

Lori Alhadeff, Broward County School Board candidate and the mother of Alyssa Alhadeff who died at Stoneman Douglas Feb. 14, said she wanted to see changes for her sons, who attend Westglades Middle next to Stoneman Douglas.

"I need the PROMISE program to work, and I want the PROMISE program to work with appropriate revisions to it." she said.

Commission chairman and Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri warned that if Cruz's only contact with the PROMISE program was one time, six years ago that it could be a red herring.

"Enough about the PROMISE program because this isn't the PROMISE program commission," he said. "We have to be careful with rabbit holes and red herrings."

The commission voted to add a third day to its next meeting which will be held July 10 and 11.

Colleen Wright can be reached at @Colleen_Wright.

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